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Saunders Recorders... Valuation of Old Recorders

I receive a lot of mail regarding old recorders. Usually the reason for the enquiry is the simple question 'What is it worth?'. The answer is usually along the lines of 'Not a lot.'.

This is a new paragraph (2013). I have come to realise that because I am a 'solo' rather than an 'ensemble' player my preferences may seem a bit skewed. You are on much safer ground with big recorders than small ones when it comes to buying old instruments. As always, the critical question is 'How well does it play?'. Do not reject an old bass out of hand if it will not play higher than D (you may need to close the foot key for this note). Hardwood is very rare and the softwoods are no disadvantage in a big instrument.

Here are the important criteria. If you follow these through to their logical conclusion you will probably not need to email me. At least, that is what I hope. You should also have a look here.

  • Recorders that were cheap when they were made do not appreciate in value. Musical instruments are tools and only valuable if they work well. Although they may be interesting, old school recorders are never worth very much.

  • According to my way of thinking, any recorder with German fingering is virtually valueless. Check out this link to be sure in your identification. It may be more difficult for a bass recorder. I have provided a German fingering chart here. Try it! You will soon discover what you have. An extended flat key with a hole in it is a strong pointer to German fingering. (Pressing it without covering the hole gives B natural.)

  • Bakelite and old thermoplastic instruments are not worth much, except, perhaps, in the larger sizes.

  • Softwood instruments, heavily varnished with an orange or red shellac based coating are unlikely to be worth much.

  • The cost of repairing or restoring broken or missing parts is likely to exceed the value of the (restored) instrument by a considerable factor.

Having got the negatives out of the way, let us now consider the positives.

  • A high quality product does not become devalued with age. A very few instruments have the same worth as Stradivarius violins and are too valuable to be played. You are not likely to come across one of those. Recorders are more like valve (tube) hi-fi. A Leak or Quad amp, the best of their era, are sought after by afficionados, for what they are, and what they still do. The oldest of the current generation of recorders have been around for nearly 100 years and have similar qualities. The best old ones are are still good, representative of their era, highly valued for their provenance and their performance. Even the less good, if individually made, have a collector's value if not value to a performer.

  • High class recorders are not made from wax impregnated maple or pear wood. They are made from boxwood or one of the tropical hardwoods, frequently palisander (rosewood).

  • High class recorders have a maker's name, and, hopefully, a serial number.

  • Really high class (old) recorders often have ivory ornamentation.

  • When you play them, high class instruments produce a more focused and interesting sound than low class instruments. Read my notes on the qualities of recorders. You should be able to hear this. Do not even consider using the word 'mellow' to describe the tone of a recorder in favourable terms.

  • There are no negative issues regarding pitch as in older orchestral woodwind. An old recorder at a strange pitch is likely to be valuable.

  • Maker's names to look out for are, among others, in no particular order, Coolsma, A. Dolmetsch, Fehr, Goble, Harlan, Huber and Kung. Names with next to no credibility are Adler, Heinrich, Hellinger, Schreiber and Wunderlich. Typical 'House' or distributor's names are Boosey & Hawkes, Hohner, Dulcet, Rosetti, and Schott. Good modern maker's names are Dolmetsch, Mollenhauer, Moeck and Zen-On. There are too many small, individual makers to list here. If you find one you should immediately be able to recognise the product of a craftsman/artist working to an individual commission.

  • Recorders by the old firm of Arnold Dolmetsch are generally good and still well worth playing, especially in amateur music making. All these instruments were individually crafted and have unique serial numbers. Production took place over a period of more than 60 years. I have copied (with permission) the dating chart and other information on the Dolmetsch web site to an easy to access pdf file.

When I say 'Not worth much.' I mean single figure pounds sterling for the treble (alto) size. Smaller recorder proportionately less, bigger, more, (but only if complete). Joint corks or thread and pads are no problem. Mouth pipes for basses are very difficult and expensive to obtain, even for current model plastic models.

Good trebles may be worth around 200 pounds sterling, give or take quite a lot depending on the wood, condition, pitch etc. Larger sizes can be worth more. I never value an instrument without first playing it. Really big recorders are not often made of hardwood for practical and economic reasons.

If, after all this, you would like me to express a personal opinion on something you have, a picture is almost invaluable. Now that I have a broadband connection I am not so concerned about the size of image attachments but the advice below still holds good. Some isp's impose limits on the size of emails.

Please follow these guidelines for producing an image file.

  • Use a plain background. Many of my web site images were produced by laying the recorder on a white card. (Hide some putty type adhesive behind it to stop it rolling and curve the card so that the recorder lies in a trough.) Later images are made with a grey card backing. This solves many problems with colour and pale features. You will find it easier to place the recorder on the floor, especially if the recorder is big.

  • Use flash. Without it the all important labium edge cannot be seen because it is in shadow.

  • If you are able, increase the exposure by a factor of two or choose 'snow scene' to compensate for the whiteness of the card. (Not applicable to grey card.)

  • Frame the recorder parallel to the long side of your viewfinder. Avoid 'perspective' views.

  • If taking detailed shots, include one of the thumb hole.

  • Include a rule in the view if you are unsure of the name for the size of the recorder.

  • Black instruments can be difficult to focus. Automatic focus cameras need something to work with. I find a small book, with printing on the cover, about the same thickness as the recorder, placed along side improves the image quality no end. Crop it out of view afterwards.

  • Use image editing software (do not overlook Photo Editor, an optional part of Word, effective and very easy to use) to:-

    1. Crop the image to show little more than the recorder, and then save it.

    2. Recent Windows systems give you a right click option to email a picture. (Send to | Mail Recipient.) Large image files can be automatically optimised for mailing. Its quick and easy. Otherwise, see the next step.

    3. Save to jpg format, quality about 80/100. This should produce a file of about 200KB, more than good enough for the purpose. (Most of my image files are a lot less than 100KB.)

    4. Attach the image files to email individually. Do not insert them into the text of email or bundle them up into a zip file. If you do, they are very much more difficult for me to view and nothing is gained. JPG images are already compressed.

    5. If you re-name the files be sure to give them different names! Email can cope with several files of the same name but they become very difficult for the recipient to handle as they cannot be batch saved to the same folder.

As a 'rule of thumb' I generally buy in recorders at around 1/3 of the list price of an equivalent new one. This enables me to sell at something between 1/2 and 2/3 the price of a new one. This is generally thought fair by all parties. Remember, I have to pay tax on used instrument sales, and I do guarantee them.

I hope this has been helpful. If you feel you need to contact me there are email links on the site for you to find. They are associated with lists of other topics. Please check them out to see if your queries are already answered. I generally add new answers to my information page as I produce them.

   


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